As we have reached the halfway point in the NHL season (or thereabouts) I thought it might be time for some early predictions. Who is going to make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs?
1. Washington Capitals – After bouncing back from their awful slump, I can see this team going from strength to strength and forcing their way back to the top of the Eastern pack. Possible favourites for the Stanley Cup? I think so.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – I think Crosby and the Penguins will have their work cut out for them fending off the Flyers, but they might just be able to do it and hang on to the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
3. Boston Bruins – It`s a straight race between Boston and Montreal for top spot in the North East Division and I reckon it will be Boston who grab it. Tim Thomas is having a great season for them in net and they are proving to be consistent all over the ice.
4. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers are continuing on from where they left off last season and look like they should make the playoffs with ease this year. I'm not sure they will go as far as they did last year however.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Stamkos and St. Louis are leading the charge for the Bolts and will see their team into the playoffs without too much of a problem. If Stamkos can keep scoring at the rate he is, Tampa could be the surprise package of the East.
6. Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers are looking like a solid team this year. Both Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom are playing very well for Atlanta and should help keep the team on course for a playoff appearance.
7. New York Rangers – The Rangers will be desperate to get into the playoffs this year after missing out so narrowly last season. With Lundqvist in net they look like they should have enough to get there too
8. Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens are going to find it tough to hold on to that last playoff spot but I think they will manage it. They have cooled down recently but still look better than most of the teams below them. I can't see them going too far in the playoffs though.
Well its plainly obvious that I think the eight teams that are in the playoff spots now will still be there at the end of the season. Carolina could break in if they find some consistency but I'm fairly confident in my choices.
1. Detroit Red Wings – The Red Wings are back to their best this season and are looking very strong indeed. I'm not sure any more has to be said about them.
2. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are looking very dangerous this year. They are scoring freely and have the best defence (statistically) in the Western Conference. With Luongo in net as well, this could be Vancouver's year.
3. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks have been going about their business quite quietly after a rather poor start. They are marching up the table and racking up wins in a confident and professional manner. I think they will take back the top spot in the Pacific Division, but whether or not they can win the Cup is another thing.
4. St. Louis Blues – Another team that have been going about their business quietly are St Louis. They are proving to be very hard to beat this year without scoring a ton of goals. Currently on a five game winning streak, I think they will finish very strongly in the second half of the season.
5. Dallas Stars – If the Dallas top line keeps playing as well as it has so far, they could prove to be the most dangerous opponent to face in the first round of the playoffs. Cup contenders? They could be a great outside bet.
6. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings have cooled down a little since their fantastic start to the season but they still look dangerous and have more than enough quality to secure themselves a playoff berth.
7. Chicago Blackhawks – While they don`t look as good as they did last year, the Blackhawks are still far too good to miss out on the playoffs and they should find some form soon enough. If anything is going to keep them out of the playoffs, it will be their injury troubles.
8. Colorado Avalanche – The acquisition of Fleischmann from the Washington Capitals has proved to be a great deal for the Avalanche so far. He bagged himself a hat-trick not too long ago and has been putting up points solidly since his arrival. Anderson is playing well between the pipes too. For those reasons, they may have just that little bit more than their rivals to sneak into the last playoff spot.
So there we have it, my predictions are done. I really wanted to put the Coyotes in that last playoff spot but they have just been making far too many mistakes. Perhaps they will sort themselves out and mount a serious challenge but I just can't see how they are going to do it with the squad they have. I hope they prove me wrong.